Rethinking immigration reform: experts say that political landscape is ready to solve our broken system

Participants of the first panel of the series Rethinking Immigration Reform at NDN were optimistic on the prospects of a solution to our broken immigration system in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and President Obama’s bold decision to grant deferred action to DREAM Act eligible youth. Frank Sharry, president of America’s Voice; Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF); and Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of Immigration Works discussed what has changed in the political landscape around the immigration debate at NDN headquarters on Wednesday, July 18th.

The pro immigration movement has become strong enough to compel politicians to action, said Frank Sharry. As an example, President Obama granted relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who complete high school on June 15.

Panelists recognized this presidential measure as an enormous step towards fixing the immigration system. “Most of the debate was around whether the president had the authority to do it not a discussion on whether he should or not do it,” explained Thomas Saenz. In his opinion, there is a critical stabilization of the political debate around immigration issues in which public opinion recognizes that undocumented immigrants would eventually get legal status and continue contributing to the U.S. economy. Immigrants like DREAM Act eligible youth have become agents and subjects of the debate and changed the framework from victimization to an inspirational militancy, according to Sharry. "But they are also the face of their parents," he said.

As a result, there are more bills to fix the legal immigration system in Congress, said Tamar Jacoby. Currently, U.S. Congress discusses visas for entrepreneurs, for graduate students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and for agricultural workers. Jacoby also recognized that some Republicans endorsed Obama’s decision on the DREAM Act eligible students but that a true solution should be approved through the U.S. Congress in a bi-partisan effort.

Panelists considered the decision by the Supreme Court on federal preemption of several provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070 as a victory for immigration activists. States who pursue their own legislation on immigration issues will face expensive attorney fees, a decrease in tourism and a potential economic crisis while “it would be impossible if not difficult to implement the ‘papers, please’ provision,” said Saenz.

At the end of the panel, Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, highlighted the increasing safety levels in the U.S. border communities and the decline of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. as an opportunity to fix the immigration system. “Rehabilitating Mexico’s image in the U.S. as a fast growing economy and not a crime ridden country is key to any immigration reform,” Rosenberg said.